Exposure effects on color

By William Wetherall

First posted 20 October 2008
Last updated 1 January 2009

Exposure    Kawaraban  |  Hanga  |  Ukiyoe  |  Nishikie
Selected sources    Connors et al 2003    Crossland and Grund 2002    Kahn 2002


The sort of prints featured on this website are commonly referred to as "art" today -- but even allowing that they may be called "antique woodblock prints" they were most certainly commodities in their day. They were produced to be consumed by people willing to part with a few sen for a copy that was likely to be passed around before being put aside.

Folded and tossed on a stack of other papers or into a drawer or box.

Pasted onto sheets of paper in a scrapbook.

Or pasted against the back of another print -- possibly punched on one side for threading together into an album with other back-to-back prints -- or fastened together side by side with other such prints and folded like an accordian.

Or hung on a wall as bought. Or somehow framed. Or mounted on a hanging scroll.

Any or all possibly trimmed in the process.

Most likely exposed to moisture and insects.

Most likely, at some point, discarded.





Selected sources

The following web sources are particularly insightful.

Connors, Whitmore, Keyes, and Coombs 2003

Sandra A. Connors, Paul M. Whitmore, Roger S. Keyes and Elizabeth I. Coombs
The Identification and Light Sensitivity of Japanese Woodblock Print Colorants:
The Impact on Art History and Preservation

Forbes Symposium on Scientific Research in the Field of Asian Art
Washinton D.C., 2003 (preprint)

This is a rather technical report of the results of collaborative research undertaken by the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Library of Congress. It is introduced, and linked from, the above link, which is to a brief article called "Japanese Colorants" on the website of the Art Conservation Research Center, affiliated with the Mellon College of Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Crossland and Grund 2002

Thomas Crossland and Andreas Grund
Sun-Fading and UV-Glass Experiment (A Case Study)
June 2002 / October 2002

This is truly "seeing is believing" account of a controlled experiment in which two woodblock prints using different kinds of pigments were exposed to sunlight in different stages over a period of time.

Kahn 2002

Marc Kahn
Color Stability
Copyright 2002

This article contains illustrations of actual prints and discussions of color changes caused by their exposure to light.